Elon ranked #1 in study abroad

Elon is once again recognized for the highest percentage rate of study abroad in the nation and for the first time is ranked among the top 10 doctoral universities for total study abroad participation.

For the 17th consecutive year, Elon University received a #1 ranking in the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Report.

Elon is ranked #1 in undergraduate percent participation in study abroad among doctoral universities for 2019-20 data. Elon is also ranked #9 in the total number of students studying abroad, and #8 among doctoral universities in the total number of students completing a short-term study abroad experience.

“This was the first day in Havana, Cuba for the Periclean Scholars Class of 2020. The scholars and I had studied Cuba/US relations for three years, and on this day we were exploring Havana Vieja (Old Havana) and learning about the history of the city. We got to meet Zenaida Iglesias, who works with the Integral Development Group, and interview her for our documentary project Sin Embargo: The Many Faces of Cuba.” – April Post, Elon faculty member, winter 2020.

Elon is the only North Carolina institution to be included in the “Leading Institutions by Study Abroad Total” summary, a list of 25 institutions with the highest number of students studying abroad.

The top rankings follow Elon’s recent accolades by U.S. News and World Report, which ranks Elon #1 in study abroad in the 2022, 2021 and 2020 editions of its “Best Colleges” guide. Princeton Review also lists Elon as having the #1 most popular study abroad program in its 2021 college guide.

The top doctoral universities recognized by IIE for study abroad participation include the following:

  1. Elon University
  2. University of Denver
  3. Wake Forest University
  4. University of San Diego
  5. American University
  6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  7. University of St. Thomas
  8. New York University
  9. University of Notre Dame
  10. Tulane University

The Open Doors report also includes total U.S. study abroad participation and is widely regarded as the measure of education abroad. This year’s report notes a large decline in the number of students studying abroad during the 2019-20 as the global COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020. During 2019-20, 162,633 U.S. students studied abroad compared to 347,099 students the year before.

“For over 30 years, the Open Doors report has been a harbinger of excitement and progress in international education. In the case of study abroad, there has been continual growth from year to year, until 2020,” said Rhonda Waller, executive director of global engagement. “The 2019-20 report, though, shows a decline in numbers of over 50 percent. This year’s report is different because it reflects the worldwide disruption of COVID-19. It’s a poignant reminder of the importance of bridge-building across humanity even in times of strife.”

“As a Dance major at Elon, I merged my passions for dance and cross-cultural learning when I studied abroad in Israel from February to July 2020. As a part of the DanceJerusalem program, I had the opportunity to expand my artistic and technical training in traditional and contemporary forms of dance, perform works by renowned Israeli choreographers, and learn from Israeli, Ukrainian, and Hungarian professors. My curiosity about the ways different cultures around the world become interconnected through education thrived despite the challenge of living abroad during the global pandemic.” – Kate Axness ’21, in Jerusalem, Israel, spring 2020.

The 2019-20 report includes study abroad experiences disrupted by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. At Elon, that included 245 undergraduate students on study abroad or Study USA programs who were impacted – 232 of whom were forced to depart their program early. Even through the challenges of 2020, while students found their study abroad plans altered or canceled due to the pandemic, the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center sought to support study abroad wherever feasible and ethical, both for the student and the host community.

Heeba Chergui ’22 was recalled from her spring 2020 study abroad in Amman, Jordan, but returned in spring 2021 to finish her experience.

Heeba Chergui ’22, studying in Amman, Jordan, in spring 2020, was recalled only seven weeks into her program. Right away Chergui started planning for finishing what she started, and she returned to Amman for spring 2021.

“The spring of 2020 was my first independent abroad experience, and I was excited to embark on this journey,” Chergui said. “The disruption of my time due to COVID-19 was frustrating, but I didn’t let it stop me. Returning this year and spending six months in Amman, Jordan, was an amazing opportunity to not only be in another culture but to test my patience and resiliency during a tumultuous time.”

The report also includes data on the profile of U.S. study abroad students, fields of study and destinations.

Notable changes from previous years include a slight increase in those studying abroad with a disability. In 2018-19, Open Doors reported that 10.5 percent of study abroad students had a disability. In 2019-20, that figure increased to 12.4 percent. Otherwise, percentages of gender, race and ethnicity, and fields of study largely remained unchanged, even with the total number of students studying abroad decreasing by over half.

These data are an acute reminder that beyond the fanfare of international education and Elon’s high marks in study abroad, the university can continue working to broaden the field to meet its commitment to access in global education.

“As we celebrate another milestone, it is an opportunity to reignite our commitment not only to enhancing access to global engagement to historically minoritized students, but to continue the work of fostering equity and inclusion on global engagement programs,” said Allegra Laing, associate director for global diversity and inclusion.

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Laing has led the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center in developing a 52-goal diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan. To date, seven goals are completed, and 17 are underway. “We’re energized by the work and invite the Elon community to hold us accountable as we pursue our five-year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan,” said Laing.

Likewise, beyond the rankings, this year’s Open Doors report speaks to the responsibility of international education from an ethical perspective.

“Elon’s consistent #1 ranking is certainly impressive in terms of numbers alone,” said Nick Gozik, dean of global education. “At the same time, it speaks to a much deeper commitment to education with a focus on academic quality and critical learning skills such as intercultural awareness and cultural humility. This past year, too, reminded us of the need to act with integrity, particularly in terms of ensuring the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and overseas partners.”